Tale of two heroes

Josh Engel was not even in the lineup a month ago. Sunday he made the play of a lifetime.

A likely hero and an unlikely hero.

It probably did not come as much of a surprise that it was freshman winger Jack Skille whose highlight-reel shot ended one of the longest games in college hockey history and propelled Wisconsin into its first Frozen Four in 14 years.

Skille, a Madison native and the seventh overall pick in last year's NHL Early Entry Draft, has been making progress throughout his entire rookie season and his sharp one-timer may have put an exclamation point on how far he has come.

He had nine shots in UW's 1-0 win over Cornell, a game that lasted more than 111 minutes of game time and nearly five hours of actual time.

And it did not take long for his teammates to surround him, mobbing him, not only for helping them advance to Milwaukee in two weeks, but also simply for ending a game that seemingly was never going to end.

He was the likely hero.

But the play would not have been possible if not for a teammate of his. After the puck went into the net and the game finally ended, reporters froze for a moment, taking in the celebration. Their next move was bolting to a video monitor nearby.

Who was that who made that perfect backhand pass from along the boards right to the stick of Skille? The answer seemed highly unlikely, and more than one person probably rubbed their eyes, making sure they saw the right number.

The answer was Rice Lake, Wis., native Josh Engel.

When he first saw the puck caroming down the side boards the blue-liner's first instinct was to backpedal and set up the defense. But in a split second, he decided to step up and play the puck.

He heard Skille yell his name — "Engel, Engel" — saw him streaking out of the corner of his eye, and attempted a backhand pass. The result was near perfection and turned out to be his second assist of this season, the fourth of his UW career and the biggest of his life.

It has been quite the sophomore season for Engel.

He spent most of it practicing diligently with the team during the week and then watching the games from the far corners of arenas on the weekends. He had played in just eight games the entire season before the calendar turned to the month of March.

He would still go on road trips with the team, but was relegated to taking in the games alongside UW's assistant coaches.

"It was nice to see Josh have success. Him and I sat out and battled all year and worked hard," said junior forward Andy Brandt, who joined Engel in watching many of those road games. "We pushed each other knowing that any time we could get in the lineup. I'm really happy for him and he deserves all that success."

UW head coach Mike Eaves put him in the lineup seven times in November and December, saying he wanted to make sure he had seven capable defensemen in case there was a time down the stretch when he would need him.

That time came in the final series of the regular season against St. Cloud State when sophomore defenseman Joe Piskula went down with an injury after — doing what else as a member of the prolific Badger defense? — blocking a shot.

Engel has been in the lineup ever since — a span of five games. Sure, there have been times where he has struggled a bit, but who would not after being out of the lineup for 10 straight games and 13 of the last 14 contests?

But he has filled in admirably alongside the defensive corps' leader, senior Tom Gilbert.

Early in Sunday's game against the Big Red, Engel gave junior goalie Brian Elliott a hand. The puck laid lifeless in the crease, and Elliott prepared to pounce on it. Instead, Engel got there first and calmly pulled the puck away as play went on.

But he truly became the unlikely hero with the pass of his life.

"It's nice to be able to look at each other and pat each other on the back, knowing that we both came from the same spot," Brandt said.

Piskula, who remained on crutches this weekend, could possibly be back for the Frozen Four, but there is no question that Engel played a vital role in making sure the Badgers got that chance to play in Milwaukee.

Badger Nation Top Stories